Recently, China’s capital city went on high alert about its dangerously deteriorating air quality. The municipal government in Beijing immediately clamped down on unnecessary traffic, shut down some major highways, closed all children’s playgrounds and warned citizens to stay indoors until the crisis could be brought under control.

Beijing’s administrative authorities responded with such alacrity because the air quality index had soared to 220, which is considered to be just one step below full-scale emergency in that country.

Here is the kicker. On that very same day, it was business as usual in New Delhi, even though its own air quality index was hovering at an abysmal 313. And many other cities across the subcontinent were even worse, with Meerut peaking at an almost unbelievable 440.

All this was just one more lowlight, in an unremitting pageant of bad news for all of us in South Asia. There is no getting around the facts. When it comes to this most vital category of health – the literal air that we breathe – our part of the world performs worst, right across the board.

Thus, at the very moment of my writing – noon on November 11 – the worst air quality index of any city on the planet…

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